Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. Before we get started, I want to share a little news with our family of listeners here at The Takeaway. Tanzina Vega, who served as host of this show since 2018, and made history as the first Latina to host it, announced on Friday that she's leaving the show. We wish her all the best in her future projects and endeavors. Don't worry fam, you're in good hands.
The hardworking team of producers, writers, and radio magic makers who bring you The Takeaway are still here. I'm going to fill in as interim host through the end of the year and together we're going to keep doing our very best to bring you the stories, voices, analysis, and the takeaways that you have come to love. Let's get to our first story.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Take a listen to this press conference from March 2020.
Tedros Adhanom: WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock, and we're deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Within two weeks of that press conference, COVID-19 infections reached 1 million worldwide, and claimed more than 100,000 lives. The White House declared a Federal State of Emergency and more than 95% of Americans were living under state or local shelter-in-place order.
Newsperson 1: California is now under a statewide stay-at-home order.
Newsperson 2: The hustle and bustle of New York is at a standstill.
Newsperson 3: New Jersey joined California, New York, Illinois, and Connecticut in ordering residents to stay at home, shuttering non-essential businesses.
Newsperson 4: Fear is very real for Americans who are now out of work.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Jobs evaporated and American unemployment soared to a record 14.7% by April of 2020. Of course, we now know this was only the beginning. More than a year later, COVID-19 has claimed more than 4.1 million lives globally including more than 600,000 in this country. Early on, in this context of death and economic devastation, there was one very important action that provided some relief to millions.
Newsperson 5: In an unprecedented move, the Trump administration announced a temporary national moratorium on evictions for tens of millions of renters who've lost work. The action comes through the Center for Disease Control, which says that evictions pose a health hazard during the pandemic.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It is not an exaggeration to say that, for much of the last 18 months, staying at home was the most important thing that most of us could do to try to save ourselves, our families, and frankly, the world. How do you stay home without a home, and how do you shelter-in-place without shelter? By making housing more secure, the eviction moratorium saved lives, but that lifesaving, but temporary halt in residential evictions is set to expire on Friday.
With the end of the moratorium, it's likely that evictions will increase in many American communities almost immediately. On Friday, July 23rd, one week before the moratorium is set to expire Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez urged President Biden via Twitter to extend the halt on the evictions by writing, "We must protect the vulnerable and do everything in our power to prevent a mass eviction crisis." We also heard from some of you about the concerns that you have about Friday's looming deadline.
Caller 1: Hi, I'm calling from Washington Heights in Manhattan, New York. I'm terrified. I have been in danger of eviction before, and my landlord has been very helpful working with me trying to get paid for back rent through the state, and the other opportunities have been also [unintelligible 00:04:13] but it's just pretty likely that I'll still be about two months behind in rent at the end of the month.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We're joined today by Julian Castro, former secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Secretary Castro, thank you for being here.
Julian Castro: Great to be with you.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We're also joined by Peter Hepburn, assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University in Newark and part of The Eviction Lab at Princeton University. Peter, welcome to the show.
Peter Hepburn: Thanks so much for having me on.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Secretary Castro, I want to begin with you. I know a month ago when the CDC extended the moratorium, you absolutely praised that effort. Here we are once again, facing the end of the eviction moratorium. What do you think we ought to be doing next?
Julian Castro: Well, I agree with those who have said that the Biden administration should try and extend the moratorium. That's complicated by the decision of the Supreme Court, but what we face right now is an emergency situation that is ongoing particularly because of the surge in the Delta variant. We have over 7 million households who are behind on rent payments, and 80% of those folks live in areas where the Delta variant is surging, so you have this perfect storm that is brewing of a surging virus and the potential for an evictions crisis.
As Peter and The Evictions Lab have documented, you already have hundreds of thousands if not millions of that had happened across the country during the pandemic, and this will exacerbate that. Three things I think the Biden administration should try and extend this. Congress, on an emergency basis, absolutely could extend the moratorium. Also, there are places, there are states, and there are localities where a state or local eviction ordinance is in place, and states and localities need to reevaluate, if they don't have one in place, putting one in place.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It's a three branches of government and federalism story. I feel you just gave us a [unintelligible 00:06:40] this idea that we have at least two branches of the federal government that could act here, but we also, in a system of federalism, have governors and localities that could act. Peter, I'm interested to come to you because as Secretary Castro was just saying, there were people who, despite this CDC moratorium, were in fact evicted during the pandemic. Can you tell us about how those evictions occurred, and what you are seeing now and expecting to happen after Friday?
Peter Hepburn: Yes, absolutely. The CDC eviction moratorium has offered remarkable protections to renters nationwide, but it requires that those renters proactively declare their eligibility for coverage. It requires them to take certain actions, and it still allows landlords to file eviction cases with the courts, and to potentially contest their declarations of eligibility. It still allows these cases to move forward, and there are in many cases, tenants who simply didn't know about the rights that were available to them under the moratorium, or didn't have the means of proving their eligibility.
We've been tracking eviction filings in six states and putting two additional cities over the course of the pandemic. It's about one in every four renters in the country. During the period when the CDC moratorium has been in effect, September 4th of last year through this week, we've seen about 350,000 cases filed in the jurisdictions that we are tracking. That's a lot of eviction cases, obviously, but it's a testament to the eviction crisis that existed in this country before the pandemic. That's only less than half of what we would normally see during the same period.
There are a lot of cases that have been prevented as a result of the moratorium and seeing it lifted now, especially when we know that vaccination rates are lowest in the areas that are at greatest risk of eviction is, as secretary Castro suggested, both a personal tragedy for those who face the prospect of eviction, but also a public health risk for everyone.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's go to that. Secretary Castro, I don't want to pretend that landlords don't exist and don't matter. As we introduced here, not only is there this public health crisis and a continuing and ongoing one, but also an economic crisis which, as much as we're in a period of recovery, could also come roaring back with the Delta variant, and the continued spread in some areas. If you're a landlord you also have a right to be made whole as a fiscal matter. What in the world is going on with the dollars that we expected to see to make landlords whole, in part, to make the eviction crisis on the backend of the moratorium reduced?
Julian Castro: That's an important point, Melissa. You're right. We do have to be concerned about landlords who themselves often are paying on a mortgage. How do you ensure that they are made whole, that they're protected, that they don't lose what they have, and they are eligible for protection? At the same time, because of these difficulties in the distribution of funds out there in states, many of the landlords have not received the assistance that they should receive.
A lot of that has been bureaucratic red tape in states and localities. Some of it has been recalcitrance among certain states, but we see a similar challenge with landlords, that we do with renters and that's why the White House a few days ago was smart to convene a forum on ensuring that people are protected from eviction and also addressing, some of the needs of landlords.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Secretary Castro, stick with me one more beat on this because I'm also wondering about the difference between homeowners and renters in this COVID moment. I'll be quite honest. As a homeowner, we got hit pretty hard in terms of my salary when COVID-19 hit. We were able to pause our mortgage payments, but those payments just got added to the back end. At some point, 20 years from now, I will pay those three mortgage payments that I missed and we'll move forward, but that's not how it works for renters. When this ends it's all due day one. Why such a big difference for renters versus homeowners?
Julian Castro: Well, the rental assistance that Congress allocated, the program that was put in place, did take into account, under certain circumstances for renters, not just back rent, current rent, but future payments as well. I would encourage renters who are out there to call their city government, call their housing authority, or perhaps one of the big charities in their area that takes on this challenge, like the United Way or Catholic Charities, or others. What they may find is that they're actually able to access funds that address this.
The situation that you're describing, Melissa, is actually a frightening one for so many people out there because they're $5,000, $6,000 or more behind on rent and their fear is that the minute that a landlord can begin the eviction process in those states where they haven't yet, or we're an eviction can actually happen, that landlord is going to say, "Hey, where's my $6,000," and they're not going to have that. It's not a matter of $100 or something that they can afford. The good news is that there is the possibility of getting some of those funds that they need, but the states and localities need to get better about distributing those resources. My advice for renters would be, you need to be aggressive. Don't sit back.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Peter, let me come to you on this. We are, again looking at this spread of the Delta variant increases in cases, but even beyond the question of living in a pandemic. aren't evictions always a public health crisis?
Peter Hepburn: Absolutely. They set up families, for a whole string of negative consequences that hurt individuals, they hurt children, and they hurt communities. Unfortunately, in this country, under normal circumstances, we're seeing 3.7 million eviction cases filed every year. That's seven eviction cases every minute. We're forcing far too many people to go through this process and to risk losing their homes. We know that a disproportionate number of those people are Black, they're Latinx and a disproportionate number of them are women and, in many cases, single mothers. We're putting this burden, this risk of housing loss on communities that are already facing an array of challenges.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Peter, if they are women who also are parents, then that's got to mean that there are children being evicted, Can you say a few words about what happens for children in everything from schooling, to nutrition, to health when they experienced an eviction?
Peter Hepburn: Yes. We know that kids who are evicted, they face challenges in their educational trajectories, in maintaining access to sufficient food. Often eviction begins a cycle of housing instability that leads families into suboptimal or subprime housing in worst neighborhoods and more exposure to lead poisoning, to chemical exposure, and a variety of environmental hazards that are bad for kids' development.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Secretary Castro, as I'm listening to Peter talk, I'm thinking so much of what's happened during the pandemic has been these crisis moments, which actually reveal these deep structural inequities that preexisted COVID-19, but this pandemic has helped us to see them. What are the inequities in our system of maybe affordable housing or of renting or of home-owning in general that have been revealed by this particular eviction crisis?
Julian Castro: Well, this just put a big exclamation point on the fact that we had a rental affordability crisis well before this pandemic. There was just another study the other day that showed what a lot of analyses have shown, which is that somebody working minimum wage, for instance, 40 hours a week, a full-time worker, there's not a single county in this country where they can afford the rent on a two-bedroom apartment, and in most places, they can't afford the rent on a one bedroom apartment. That's just one example.
For so many people in this country, the rent is unaffordable. In addition to that, housing prices have been spiking as well. Again, they were before the pandemic after the recovery from the great recession. This is an inveterate challenge that requires, I think, for us to summon this sense, this, I hope, collective sense that we've had during the pandemic, that we're all in this together. I believe, see housing as a human right and work in this country to try and make sure that everybody has a safe, decent, affordable place to live going forward, that's going to mean more investment. It's going to mean investing in more housing units out there in our country and making sure that they're affordable and accessible to everybody.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Peter, you work on evictions as a matter of intellectual and scholarly work. Is this possibility around housing as a right, and an affordable housing greater stock of it going forward, does that seem likely, or maybe even just possible based on the work that you do?
Peter Hepburn: No, it's encouraging to see more policy makers at the federal and at the state level taking this seriously and trying to think about what more could be done to support renters in their communities. I think we've seen action at the state level, in a number of states that are trying to think about how they could reform the eviction process. One of the big things is that people who are facing eviction don't have the right to a lawyer. It's not guaranteed to them. The vast majority don't have legal representation, whereas landlords almost always do. Not having a lawyer when you're facing risking your home often over less than $1,000 is unimaginable. We're starting to see more states take on legislation that would guarantee the right to counsel in eviction cases. I think that's a very important step, and it would be great to see more states move that way.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Kind of as public defenders for eviction cases?
Peter Hepburn: Exactly. Washington State recently did this. A number of other states are in the process of implementing these programs, but those tend to be the states that already had fairly strong renter protections in place.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Right.
Peter Hepburn: The states that have more landlord friendly regulations in places like Texas, for instance, aren't really considering those as options, and in many cases, are even moving the regulations to be more landlord friendly. I think we faced this potential divide between states that are fairly safe to be a renter in, and where you're better protected from the threat of eviction. Then, unfortunately, a fairly large number of states, that threat is all too real and isn't really changing.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Peter Hepburn is an assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University, Newark. He's also part of The Eviction Lab at Princeton University. Julian Castro is the former secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Secretary Castro, Professor Hepburn, thank you so much for joining me.
Peter Hepburn: Thank you for having me on.
Julian Castro: Thank you.
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